Over a year ago, just when I started blogging, I got involved with a Flickr group called Project365. It’s a collection of users of the on-line photo posting group, from all over the world and of all different photographic skill levels, who commit to taking and posting one picture a day for a full calendar year. Now, heading into my second year of the project (you can start at any time), I have to say the project was transformative in more ways than I could have imagined.
The group is a mixed bag and people join it for different reasons. Some people are committed to creating art every day, some just wanted to improve their skills, some wanted a structure to get themselves back into photography and some people just did it for a laugh. What quickly happened is that subcommunities developed, one of which I joined which was for people committed to also commenting on other participants’ photos. Again, the motivations and the ways participants used the group were all over the map. Some people were just curious about other people’s lives, some very good photographers acted as mentors helping the amateurs along, and some people just acted as cheering sections.
It didn’t take too many months to feel you were involved in each other’s lives. We saw one participant pack up and leave an empty nest of 25 years and downsize to country living in another state. We followed another participant through a difficult in vitro process. Others through surgery, health set-backs and recovery. At least two participants, I like to think buoyed by their Cyber Support Group, crossed the line from amateur to professional in the fields of writing and photography. And of course, we all got to know and love each other’s pets — because when you are taking a picture a day, a cute puppy or kitten is a good stand-in for a day when you have no inspiration.
Halfway through the project, I attempted to set up a half-way “real world” meet-up (which unfortunately fell through as schedules and distance made it increasingly impractical).
That’s where Andy sounded the alarm:
“I don’t want these people in my house. You don’t know them. They could be nuts or psychos.”
Well, I didn’t think so. I’d been “inside” so many of their houses. I’d seen snaps of the kids. I knew the layout of half of their workplaces. But many of us knew or had even recruited other members that we knew from “real life”. And slowly some of us met those known only on the Internet and vetted them to others. There was never a case of someone who seemed like a great person on-line who was a creep in real life.
Today marked my “crossing over” from Cyber Friend to Real Friend. Two good friends of mine, known by their Flickr handles Noe Knit and Drive-Design, had met two other Flickr members who also lived in San Francisco, (again with the Flickr handles) MyBlueMuse and The Other Martin Taylor. Drive and Noe were enthusiastic: “They’re a great couple. Another Brit/Yank combination. You’ll love them.”
Today, we finally met for brunch over by the Cliff House.
And they were just as fun and funny and talented and interesting as they seemed on line.
As you can imagine, the talk also turned to other Flickrites. We found we’d all had the same odd, hesitant feelings about a few hangers-on who dropped into the group photo pool every now and then. There was nothing you could put your finger on, but you know the feeling, someone who’s too clingy too soon. Who seems a little off-kilter. Who just gives you those “I better back off” vibes.
And it occurred to me that the InterWebs haven’t changed much. It’s just a new Town Square in which to meet people. Not that I’m advocating that young kids or teens should be making friends on line. They don’t have their antenna attuned yet and are fair game for the users and abusers. But if you’re over thirty five, you’ve met a wide variety of people and you know the signals.
The Internet doesn’t seem to shield anything. A creep is a creep on Main Street or on-line.
And Good Peeps is Good Peeps wherever you find them. In fact, Good Peeps seem to shine right through the computer screen and be easily recognizable. Like MyBlueMuse and The Other Martin Taylor.
Glad we got together. Be seein’ a lot more of you.